John Darnielle / Universal Harvester

Wednesday, February 22, 2017 - 7:00pm

Bestselling author of Wolf in White Van John Darnielle visits the Booksmith to celebrate the publication of his second novel, Universal Harvester. He'll be in conversation with Zyzzyva's managing editor Oscar Villalon.



Jeremy works at the Video Hut in Nevada, Iowa -- a small town in the center of the state, the first “a” in Nevada pronounced “ay.” This is the late 1990s, and while the Hollywood Video in Ames poses an existential threat to Video Hut, there are still regular customers, a rush in the late afternoon. It’s good enough for Jeremy: It’s a job, quiet and predictable, and it gets him out of the house, where he lives with his dad and where they both try to avoid missing Mom, who died six years ago in a car wreck.


But when a local schoolteacher comes in to return her copy of Targets -- an old movie, starring Boris Karloff, one Jeremy himself had ordered for the store—she has an odd complaint: “There’s something on it,” she says, but doesn’t elaborate. Two days later, a different customer returns She’s All That, a new release, and complains that there’s something wrong with it: “There’s another movie on this tape.”


Jeremy doesn’t want to be curious. But he takes a look and, indeed, in the middle of the movie the screen blinks dark for a moment and She’s All That is replaced by a black-and-white scene, shot in a barn, with only the faint sounds of someone breathing. Four minutes later, She’s All That is back. But there is something profoundly unsettling about that scene; Jeremy’s compelled to watch it three or four times. The scenes recorded onto Targets are similar, undoubtedly created by the same hand. Creepy. And the barn looks much like a barn just outside of town.


There will be no ignoring the disturbing scenes on the videos. And all of a sudden, what had once been the placid, regular old Iowa fields and farmhouses now feels haunted and threatening, imbued with loss and instability and profound foreboding. For Jeremy, and all those around him, life will never be the same . . .


Tickets for this event must be purchased in advance. ($21.50, includes a copy of Universal Harvester)



John Darnielle’s first novel, Wolf in White Van, was a New York Times bestseller, National Book Award nominee, and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for first fiction, and widely hailed as one of the best novels of the year. He is the writer, composer, guitarist, and vocalist for the band the Mountain Goats. He lives in Durham, North Carolina, with his wife and sons.


Oscar Villalon, managing editor of ZYZZVA, former books editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, and a member of the board of directors of the National Book Critics Circle. His writing has appeared in the Virginia Quarterly Review and The Believer.





  • A ticket must be purchased in advance to guarantee your spot at the event. 
  • Ticket price is the cost of one copy of Universal Harvester + tax, and you may pick up your book at the event.
  • Please be emotionally prepared that the signing line could take several hours.



If you cannot attend the event but would like to request a signed copy of Universal Harvester  or Wolf in White Van, order below and put your request in the comments field. 






Universal Harvester Cover Image
ISBN: 9780374282103
Availability: Out of Stock - Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Farrar, Straus and Giroux - February 7th, 2017

Wolf in White Van Cover Image
ISBN: 9781250074713
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Picador USA - September 1st, 2015